Why corporate ‘tone of voice’ guidelines fail

Either vague or self-contradictory—and sometimes both—such efforts to codify ‘brand personality’ rarely do much beyond perplexing the writers they’re supposed to help.

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Most large organizations have at least one set of guidelines for writers.

Often, one of the documents you’ll be told to read before you start writing will be all about capturing the firm’s “brand personality” through tone of voice. Invariably, this document is pointless.

Why? Because:

1. It rarely tells professional writers anything they don’t already know about good writing.

2. It’s largely ignored or misunderstood by everyone else because they have their own idea of what sounds appropriately “corporate.”

Let me give you an example. A copywriter I know recently worked with a client who gave him a guide to communicating their brand. He sent me a copy of the document, which helpfully explained its purpose thus:

It’s important that the tonality of our communications convey the unique characteristics of [XYZ company]…

…To ensure that we always “sound” like [XYZ company], we’ve shared a few writing strategies to help bring the personality attributes to life in copy.

The document then went on to list the various “personality attributes” of the brand and how the firm’s written documents should reflect them.

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